Jim Siergey: A Christmas Post

December 17th, 2014

Tiny Tim hobbled up to me and nudged me with his crutch.

“Pardon me, guv’nuh” he said, sounding quite a bit like Dick Van Dyke’s chimney sweeper voice from Mary Poppins, “but have you a penny to spare?”

I looked down at this pitiable wretch clad in oversized cloth cap and tattered clothes who was leaning on a makeshift crutch that looked like it was constructed from the leg of an ironing board turned upside down and replied, “A penny?”

“If you haven’t got a penny” he responded, “then a ha’penny will do.”

Upon delivering this line, he tossed away his ironing board crutch and began dancing a wild jig. He continued on effortlessly, performing such athletic dance moves that he could have been a long lost Nicholas brother (and I ain’t talking Saint Nicholas, brother!).

He Gene Kellyed up concrete stairs of three flats, Fred Astaired down the railings and Donald O’Connored a mid-air somersault into a pile of freshly fallen snow before emerging a la Esther Williams.

He stood there in his Grand Finale pose, breathing heavily as well as shivering a bit, looking at me with eyes as large as the platters from Old Country Buffet.

donaldocnnor

The high-flying Donald O’Connor…

 

“Well?” I said to him leaning back on one foot while I folded my arms across my chest.

“Guv’nuh?” he replied quizzically.

“That dance routine was boffo, son.” I replied, “And that was quite the big ending but you blew the capper.”

I bent at the waist in order to lean in close to the waif’s face which was covered with both perspiration and melting snow, “Considering it was you, I was very surprised that you did.”

Tiny Tim, looking even tinier as his downcast eyes met his quivering lower lip, made for the epitome of a pitiful-looking figure before a light bulb, or in his case, a gas jet turned on above his head. Then a big smile crossed his miniscule mug and he cried out, “I got’cha, guv’nuh!”

He shook the snow off his rags and proceeded to repeat his arduous dance routine. It was even more terrific this time. Like an amphetamine gazelle, he bounded up steps, slid down the banister like an Olympic snowboarder, somersaulted like one of Jesse White’s tumblers into another pile of freshly fallen snow and emerged with arms stretched out wide, his chin thrusted skyward and loudly proclaimed “GOD BLESS US, EVERYONE!”

My applause was hearty but muted, as I was wearing thick Thinsulate® gloves, but I did cry out “Now, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!”

I helped him out of the snow drift, shook his hand, patted his head and turned to continue on my way. I had only trod a few steps before I stopped. I turned to see Tim limping over to retrieve his crutch which had bounced and slid into the street when he tossed it away. A car had run over it, bending it a bit but it appeared to still be usable.

“Hey, kid!” I cried, as I slipped off one of my gloves.

As the panting ragamuffin looked up, I tossed him a penny.

The Christmas spirit affects even a person such as I.

 

Editor’s Note: Jim‘s last post for The Third City was Keepsakes

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Jim Siergey: Keepsakes

December 14th, 2014

We had some house guests during the holiday season. One morning one of them asked if I had any fingernail clippers. As I pointed to the bathroom, I told her that there were five or six of them in a container on a shelf in the medicine cabinet. Afterwards, my guest commented on the clippers.

“They’re terrible!” she said, thrusting her jagged fingernails at me.

“Oh!” I replied, “There’s only one good pair in there.”

With a look of confusion upon her face, she asked, “Then why don’t you get rid of the others?”

I was struck speechless. Getting rid of the crummy clippers never occurred to me. Really, it never did.

Of course, repainting walls, replacing carpeting or rearranging furniture never occurs to me either. But I think that’s kind of a “guy thing”. Keeping fingernail clippers that don’t clip…well, that may be something else altogether.

Since we’re on the subject, I guess I should mention the English Leather Quartet box.

It’s a small cardboard box about 4″ x 2″ with a wood grain design. In the upper left hand corner of the lid to this box is Old English lettering spelling out “English Leather.” In the lower right hand corner the word “Quartet” is printed in a Helvetica-type font. In the center is an illustration of a saddle with stirrup and riding crop. Above it floats an equestrian helmet. Quite stylish, don’cha think?

jimsiergeykeepsakes

 There are places I remember…

 

Inside the box is a foursome of tiny boxes. One of the boxes is labeled English Leather All-Purpose Lotion. The other three are English Leather colognes which by name are Wind Drift, Timberline and Lime. Inside each box is a small one ounce bottle with a wooden screw off top.

This boxed item was found on the very same shelf it sits upon in the downstairs washroom when we moved into this house 36 years ago.

Each bottle was empty then and still is but, otherwise, the little boxes and the container are in near pristine condition. Other than its looks, it has never had a reason to sit on that shelf in this house since we’ve been here. But there it sits. And, I suppose, it will continue to sit. If you’d like to see it sometime, come on over and use my downstairs bathroom.

There are a few more oddities and entities like that around here—things that came with the house and stayed.

There’s an old picture frame that holds one of those retouched color photographs of a young high school or college age girl. It looks to be from the 1950s. I have no idea who this person is as well as no reason to keep this photo in this frame perched upon a bookcase yet, there she resides.

When we moved in way back when, I found an old telephone in the basement. I would guess that it’s from the ‘40s, a desk phone, one of those black ones with a rotary dial. It is quite hefty, built like an old Buick and can easily double as a weapon. It’s a nice item, hard to toss away. So it sits prominently in our front hall.

I guess it’s a link to our past. Well, a link to my past. My childhood. My infancy. Oh Em Gee—the phone is Mommie! (No, no, of course not. We had a wall phone.)

I suppose it is peculiar that we (well, I) have kept all this memorabilia that isn’t from my personal past. It’s from the house’s past. Since this house is over a hundred years old, its past is pretty plentiful. I guess I feel that getting rid of these found objects would be akin to tampering with an Indian burial ground.

Okay, that’s a pretty weak analogy but it’s the best I can come up with at the moment. However, I pledge that I will begin to do some serious thinking about clearing out those fingernail clippers. But the Quartet stays.

 

Editor’s Note: Jim‘s last post for The Third City was Giddyap!

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Jim Siergey: Giddyap!

December 7th, 2014

The last three books that I’ve recently read have all been, hold your horses now, westerns. I know, right?

And they weren’t little pulp dime novels or flimsy paperbacks either. They were NOVELS! Sprawling sagas, if you will, each one over 400 pages in length. They was some meaty collections of paper and typeface, podner.

This pastoral preoccupation all began with a postal-delivered gift from an old pal. It was a book—written by Oakley Hall and first published in the 1950s during the height of the McCarthy hearings. Warlock was the name of it. From that title, it doesn’t sound like a western, but it is. Warlock is the name of the town that this novel takes place in.

It’s about loyalty, mistrust, individuality, responsibility, gunfighters and law and order with all its intangibles. A good read. I learned there was a movie based on it made in the late ‘50s. It has an impressive cast headed by the likes of Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda and Anthony Quinn.

I never saw it.

ravenswoodusedbooks

On the shelves at Ravenswood Used Books, Jim discovered…

 

Upon finishing Warlock, I picked up another western novel that I had purchased about a year earlier, The Virginian by Owen Wister. It was first published in 1902 and is the prototype for all westerns. The shoot out on Main Street, the phrase, “Smile when you say that” all came from this book.

I bought it in a bookstore in Jackson, Wyoming. I figured it was an apt purchase in such surroundings, like buying some Kafka in Prague or Liberace in Las Vegas. It took so long for me to begin reading it because I first read the introduction (written by a Gary Scharenhorst) in which I learned more than I cared to about the author. It made me not like the guy very much and, despite several attempts, I couldn’t get myself past the first page.

I’m not sure one should know a lot about the personality or private life and thoughts of any kind of artist—writers, artists, actors, filmmakers, musicians, etc. I’ve of a mind to let one’s work speak for oneself without any baggage-laden shadow hovering over it.

But, then again, there’s this Bill Cosby thing so, I dunno. All I know is that I wish I hadn’t read that introduction.

littlebigman

One of the greatest westerns ever written…

 

I am glad, though, that I finally was able to immerse myself in The Virginian because it is a great book, one of those oldy moldy classics with a capital C. It takes a while to get going but once it does, that going gets doggone good. (Yes, I just wrote ‘doggone’) There have also been movie adaptations of The Virginian, several from the Silent Era, as well as a long-running TV show.

I never saw it or any of the movies.

At Ravenswood Used Books on Montrose Avenue off of Damen (a very cool place with a large selection of literature—I urge you to go visit), I picked up a few books and one of them was another western novel, Thomas Berger’s Little Big Man.

This movie I did see.

I saw it when it came out in 1970, at the old ornate Uptown Theatre (may it rest in peace). A very good film, if I remember correctly, with a young Dustin Hoffman playing the 111 year old Jack Crabb reminiscing about his life in the worlds of both the Cheyenne, where he spent his childhood and the white man, where he spent most of his adulthood.

I didn’t know it was based on a novel that was published in 1964. Mr. Berger’s book is, if I may once again use a word that is overused, great.

A’course now, all this binge-reading of westerns has gotten li’l ol’ impressionable me moseying around the homestead with my thumbs tucked into the belt loops of my Levis, addressing people as ‘Buckaroo’ and ‘Slim’ and saying stuff like ‘grubstake’ and ‘vittles’ and “Consarn it.” My wife gets particularly perturbed because whenever she asks me to do something or take me to task for something else, I respond by saying “Smile when you say that.”

As a result of this behavior she has insisted that I switch genres for awhile. She even went so far as to suggest that I read some Studs Terkel, a great Chicago writer, which is cool with me. But when she handed me the particular title of his that she had chosen, it made me wonder if there was a hidden message behind her maneuver.

The book she gave me was …Working.

 

Editor’s Note: Jim‘s last post for The Third City was Roger Miller

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Grabowski: A Morning’s Work

December 3rd, 2014

I took a half vacation day to take our daughter for her 18-month doctor visit.

At 8:00 AM we kissed mommy good-bye as she headed off for work.

“Da-Da,” Cora said, grabbing my index finger with one hand and leading me over to the cardboard box that she had been obsessed with for the past few days.

She sat down in it and motioned for me to bring her blankets and toys and stuffed animals until it was full and she was covered, and then she handed everything back to me one by one.

Next I pushed her around the house while I made car engine noises.

The box was big enough for her to lie down in and close the flaps, so we played some peek-a-boo, too.

Several times she invited me to join her inside by pulling my hand and saying, “sit,” but I had to politely decline, telling her that Da-Da was too big to fit in.

In two hours, we only took one break from that box, when we crawled into her circus tent in the front room, hung out with some other stuffed animals, and took turns playing harmonica.

At the doctor, we learned that Cora was growing at the rate that she should.

On the way to daycare, we stopped at Peterson Park, and Cora went down the slides for a bit.

As we walked back to the car, a group of Hassidic Jews strolled by.

“Hat. Hat. Hat. Hat,” Cora repeated excitedly, pointing towards their heads. “Hat” was one of her first words and she was always proud to tell me every time she saw one, be they on old men or be they on gang bangers.

grabowskidaughter2

Daddy & daughter!

 

After dropping her off at daycare, I stopped by an estate sale around the corner. 

Inside, every wall was covered with bookshelves: the entire basement, stairwells, enclosed porch, attic and even in the garage.  There were a lot of history books of the Soviet Union, Germany and Europe and I don’t know what else because I didn’t spend much time looking.

The owner of the house, a 90 year-old man, was hanging around while an estate sale company managed the operation.

There were probably 15,000 books for sale, and a few paintings that the owner had done.

I liked one of his paintings of a woman and child on a beach. I’ve always liked outsider art, art done by someone who didn’t study it.

I asked the man if there were any other paintings he had done that I could see.

“There are some more inside,” he said unlocking the back door to let me in, “but I’m not sure you would like them, or if I am even going to sell them.”

Bookshelves lined the walls of his kitchen, dining room, front room and both bedrooms.

He showed me about 30 more paintings and described his favorites in detail.

Most were of his wife at various ages before she passed away. There was one of her smoking a cigarette, and a tasteful, non-revealing one of her topless pulling up black pantyhose.

“You see the look on her face in this one?” he asked pointing to a portrait. “She was thinking to herself, ‘why did I marry such a poor schlep?’”

“I can see why you wouldn’t want to sell these, they must mean a lot to you,” I said with watery eyes.

I left without buying anything, but I got his number with plans to commission a piece.

It was only noon and I was feeling pretty good about how much I had experienced that day, so to reflect on it all, I stopped at a packaged goods-tap room on my route home that I had been wanting to check out.

There was a man sitting at the bar telling the bartender about the biggest pile of money he had ever seen.

Another man, in a suit, who I later learned went by the name Falcon and owned the dry cleaner down the block, was on his cell phone talking in Spanish about meeting someone later that afternoon, as he nervously pushed pool balls around a mini-pool table with his free hand.

The bartender then told his own story about a huge pile of money he had walked in on unexpectedly in Belarus that had five hot women standing around a marble table counting it.

I couldn’t think about anything other than the short and tidy $3,000 stack of legitimate earnings from my Grandma’s estate sale that I had ever seen, so I just ordered another $1.75 Old Style draft.

I had been looking for a good bar within walking distance of our house and I can now stop my search, at least for while. After all, this place has a lot going for it: cheap draft beer, interesting and talkative immigrant characters, a confident bartender, undertones of shadiness, and a weekly pool tournament on a table hidden in the back-back room. Plus, it doesn’t reek of piss like most of the other bars nearby.

I really need to take the morning off more often; I can’t believe how much fun it can be.

 

Editor’s Note: Grabowski‘s last post for The Third City was The Slide

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Jim Siergey: Roger Miller

November 30th, 2014

The first musical artist that I ever held in special esteem was Roger Miller. This was simply because he wrote his own songs. It’s true, he was the first performer that I was aware of who penned his own lyrics. I was impressed.

As a kid I saw plenty of singers on TV but they all seemed to sing from the same songbook. Many an old Tin Pan Alley tune was sure to be sung on an Ed Sullivan, Garry Moore, Mike Douglas or Dinah Shore show. Other frequent options were songs from Broadway musicals. The most popular one at this time of my boyhood was The Impossible Dream from “Man of La Mancha.”

I must’ve heard that tune warbled on our TV set a hundred times. I don’t know why so many singers included it in their repertoire because the best deliverer of that tune, hands down, was Robert Goulet. I don’t care how Elvis felt about him; Bobby G. had the pipes to make that impossible dream come true.

But Goulet didn’t write that song. Elvis didn’t write his own tunes either. Roger Miller did. Plus, Roger had fun with his songs, as evidenced by his constant use of onomatopoeically nonsensical “country scat”. Humor goes a long way with me.

Humor is what first drew me to Bob Dylan. Songs such as I Shall Be Free No. 10, Talkin’ World War Three Blues, and Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream are all very funny. I was sucked in by his satire and then he showed me his serious and surreal sides, which I dug as well.

jimsiergeybuffalorogerwilliamsBuffalo skater…
But my patron saint in humorous songs was Allan Sherman. He didn’t write songs, he re-wrote songs. His updated takes on old standards are witty and amusing. His heir apparent of today, Weird Al Yankovic, employs a similar approach with current pop music. Two of my favorite Sherman “re-songs ” are the historical You Went the Wrong Way, Old King Louie and One Hippopatami, Allan’s lyrical language lesson about singulars and plurals. His “big hit”, of course was Hello, Muddah, Hello, Fadduh!

Thanks to Allan, I began re-writing lyrics to songs as well as plays and novels I was supposed to be reading in school. As I read them, I was also re-reading them and writing them out with a different tone. I had to make everything funnier.

As I matured, I stopped doing that. As much.

As Hello, Muddah… was to Allan Sherman, King of the Road was to Roger Miller. Born in Ft, Worth, Texas, Roger was a Nashville songwriter. In the late fifties, he started out on his own or with a partner before he hit it big in 1964 with Dang Me and Chug-a-Lug. Those were soon followed by the wonderful Do-Wacka-Do and the world was Roger’s oyster for quite a while.

He had a big hit with the atmospheric and much-covered King of the Road, followed by the Carnaby Street whimsy of England Swings with “bobbies on bicycles two by two”. Roger had an endearingness about him and appeared on television quite often, including a memorable segment on “The Muppet Show”.

As the 1970s wore on, Roger Miller’s star (Kansas City Star was another of his country hits) diminished somewhat but he did record the chilling One Dyin’ And A Buryin’ in 1972. His songs always had an undercoating of sadness despite the veneer being all goofy smiles but the veneer on One Dyin’ was all stripped off. Roger still worked and recorded but in 1992 throat cancer ‘dang’ed him’ at the young age of 56.

Of all the songs he had written, Roger said that his personal favorite was the philosophically silly You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd where he sings of all the things you can’t do but “you can be happy if you’ve a mind to”.

Doo Doo Doomp Dwada Doomdy Doo Bwaaahhh….

 

Editor’s Note: Jim‘s last post for The Third City was Southport Avenue

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Sam Adams: Drama Queen of the Stone Age

November 25th, 2014

If you didn’t know by now, Benny Jay likes to gripe about technology.

Specifically, he’s prone to rants on how young folks are blindly being given the business by the likes of Google and Apple. It’s kinda like hearing Old Man Hawkins at the end of the bar grumbling about how the roads were much better off when all a man had was his horse.

oldmanteethOld Man Hawkins says, “Technology? Fiddlesticks. You young bucks think fancy of yerselves what with yer Tweeters and Spacebooks and what have ye. You ever shouldered a pick axe, sonny? No wonder you got the hands of a dairyman’s daughter. Technology, my ass.”

 

Case in point: I get on the phone the other day with Benny to talk about the media empire we’re building, and how it’s bound to make the Huffington Post look like an indie fan-zine. He tells me to check out something he just sent me. I open my Gmail account. I pause.

“Hey Ben… I see you’re still on AOL. What gives, man? I thought I told you to switch to Gmail.”

“Yeah, yeah—you and everybody else and your damn Gmail. I bet you guys work for them!”

“Ben, for the fifth time—I don’t work for Google.”

“Look, kid. I’ve been on AOL since you were eating Gerber’s out of a tin can. AOL’s fine… Well, actually, it isn’t. They got all these damn posts popping up on my page ever since the Huffington lady bought ‘em out. Lists of cute babies and kittens that they know you’re gonna click on. And I always do. I swear these people are covert psychologists! God, I hate them. But I’m sticking to AOL.”

“Ben, I hear ya. They’re evil. Gmail is just a lot more efficient that than your Neolithic AOL account. Besides, all this shit’s free. What are you so angry about?”

Then he hits me with a conversation stopper:

“Sam, nothing is free. You know what’s free? Death is free.”

We move on to more pressing issues, like how many points Stacey King averaged in his rookie season (8.9), and how Pau Gasol is probably the best scoring big man the Bulls have had since Artis Gilmore.

After we hang up, I start thinking about my Luddite buddy’s views on the evil interwebs. And I begin realizing that I’m not a big fan of technology myself. Call me old-fashioned, but I think a lot of technological “advancements” have taken meaningful, personal interactions out of our society.

 

samuptheairUp in the Air breaks it down. Great movie.

 

The only thing you’ll ever catch me reading on a tablet is how many milligrams are in it (fuck iPads, and fuck Kindle). Or as Ben would say, “I feel about Twitter kinda like I feel about iPhones … It’s the man! The man is trying to (grumble, grumble, etc.).”

Yeah, fuck the man. And fuck Gmail. I like how Joel Murray’s character put it in the great black comedy, God Bless America:  “Nobody talks about anything anymore. They just regurgitate everything they see on TV, or hear on the radio or watch on the web. When was the last time you had a real conversation with someone without somebody texting or looking at a screen or a monitor over your head?”

OK, maybe Ben’s got a point.

I call him back.

“Ben, I gotta give it you. This technology business really is a bunch of horseshit.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying, numb nuts!”

“I know, I know. I’ll never ask you to use Gmail again.”

“Good.”

“But since we’re living in 2014, can you do me just one favor?”

“What’s that?”

“Please, for the love of god… You’ve really gotta stop wearing that fanny pack.”

“Oh yeah? What do you use to carry your shit?”

“A wallet, Ben.”

“Wallets! Ha, don’t even get me started on wallets. I bet you work for them!”

“Work for who?”

“Wallets! The wallet man! There was a day when all a man needed was…”

 

Editor’s Note: Sam‘s last post for The Third City was Mayor Daley! He writes and edits Monster at the End of the Dream, a great blog!

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Matt Farmer: Toilet Paper Tuesday!

November 23rd, 2014

If it’s Sunday, it’s time for Chairman Matt’s tweets…

Rauner met with Madigan and Cullerton this morning for two hours; that’s $16.50/person (pre-tax), if you’re an Illinois minimum wage worker.

Taking a cue from Facebook’s TBT (Throwback Thursday) fad, CPS will introduce TPT (Toilet Paper Tuesday) to many of its underserved schools.

CPS board approves new school rating system. Schools with soap and toilet paper will be rated Level 1; schools without will be Level 2.

David Vitale tells CPS parents that Aramark cleaning crews decked out in HazMat suits are now monitoring his toxic swaps. #CPSboard

Vitale now bored with auction-rate swaps; said to be exploring other CPS gaming options, possibly a Public League sports book. #CPSboard

Vitale to explore use of reverse mortgages, payday loans, and CPS student plasma sales to recover sums he lost at auction-rate bond casino.

Emanuel tells media it’s already too late to undo whatever crazy financial deals David Vitale may get us into during the next few months.

If you’re a Chicago taxpayer looking for a low- to no-risk swap, swap out Mayor Emanuel in February 2015.

Rahm to target Aspen, Palm Springs, Wilmette and Martha’s Vineyard in first round of 2015 mayoral campaign ads, which will air on CNBC.

Sources say new Rahm TV spot will feature Diana Rauner telling voters, “I’m a lifelong Democrat, but I’d still consider voting for Rahm.”

Should the @ChicagoBears play the Philadelphia 76ers in any type of cross-league competition (e.g., darts, Scrabble, etc.), bet the under.

Trestman said to be excited after team displayed playoff-level focus and intensity during Thursday’s team meeting and film session. #Bears

Mel Tucker to address Soldier Field crowd before noon kickoff: “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.” #Bears

Marc Trestman remains upbeat, saying team meetings this week focused on a smart PowerPoint presentation called “Competitive Synergy.” #Bears

No point in talking about “Bear weather”; let’s keep the focus on “Bear whether,” as in whether the #Bears decide to show up this week.

Maybe Marc Trestman can run the table and finish 10-6, which should position him nicely to become Tampa Bay’s next head coach. #Bears

Yes, readers were once able to get to the @Suntimes website in less than three clicks of the mouse, but today’s readers want a challenge.

Nixon declares emergency, calls up National Guard, appeals to Silent Majority, and seeks peace with honor. #Ferguson

 

Editor’s Note: Matt‘s last post for The Third City was Bear Down

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